Ubuntu Rebranded

Ubuntu has revealed its new brand identity, and apparently it’s driven by the theme “light”. My initial thoughts are that while almost any step is likely a good one, I’m not overly enthusiastic about it. Maybe, and hopefully, that will change.

Perhaps the first point I’d make is that while Ubuntu has never really committed to a specific audience (other than ‘everyone’), at least the “Linux for Human Beings” tagline gave a shred of something to shoot for. With the new identity apparently being inspired by the theme “light”, I’m even less confident they’re looking for a specific audience. We’ve steered away from humans and turned toward the abstract concept of light. I’d be glad for someone to spell out exactly what this means in terms of audience.

Onto one man’s brief appraisal of the work:

The new wordmark:

The typeface is significantly nicer than in the original noodlefont wordmark.  It’s modern, with a nice big x-height, I can’t help but think it’s in the netherworld between something lightweight and something heavy. I think a thinner, lighter font would have served it better. It’s not unattractive, but not inspiring or committed either. People who know much more than me about type seem to cautiously approve.

The logo – ahh.. the logo. I feel that the encasing circle weakens it. At that size I can understand why they would need to circle in order to make the placement next to the wordmark work better. But it’s a bit player now. It gives off the smell of  ‘afterthought’ to me.

Like the aforementioned Jay, I think the spreadubuntu image unfortunately hits home illustrating exactly how bad the initial typeface actually was:

It’s almost as if they wanted to spell out what a big improvement this was. If nothing else, the spreadubuntu logo does just that.

The Colours:

While the colours on the branding identity page are inconsistent (Jay does a great job of showcasing this btw), I think they’re still unique and likely to be ridiculed en masse by the same people who ridiculed the brown. This is not a bad thing. I think the new colours could be used to good effect. I’m sincerely glad it’s not blue – not because I personally hate blue, but because the new tones are unique and provide a far easier avenue to differentiate the identity.

The Window Decorations:

Moving the window decorations to the top left will undoubtedly (and not entirely unjustly) make people scream Apple Copycats!

But they will quickly see that it’s a poorly executed copy at that. Besides the spacing issue, the button trough and buttons themselves are heavy handed and something reminiscent of a theme you’d see on wincustomize.com. The buttons are inconsistent in look as well, which is hard to understand. And where is the lightness? Perhaps if losing the trough is a no-go, then scalloping it between buttons would be a band aid. Still, the uniqueness and execution of the decorations in the current Karmic Dust theme is miles ahead in my mind:

The Bootsplash:

The bootsplash screen is in my mind, no better or worse than the current one. However for me, it’s all in the transition to the desktop. The bootsplash does however reinforce my belief that the logo treatment (circled superscript) doesn’t work well. Again there’s nothing that says ‘lightness’ to me. Maybe the actual bootsplash in action will change my tune. I still think the progress bar motif is uninspired. Troy’s wonderful boot animatic shows a completely unique and inventive alternative to the standard horizontal progress bar. Are finger’s getting cut off for reaching too far afield here?

The Web Identity:

As others have noted, perhaps the new look website is the biggest positive to be had out of this whole thing:

It’s not all positive, but if ‘lightness’ is somehow your mantra, then the site mockup serves it better than anything else I’ve covered here. It’s far from unique, but it’s a big improvement. It’s a lot more ‘serious’ feeling whatever that means.

You’ve got to wonder though that if you’re consistently told what you’ve done is a huge improvement over your current work, you walk away thinking you’ve either made big strides, or your initial work was tremendously shit. Personally I think it’s a bit of both. It’s an improvement, but there is a long long way to go.

Assorted Gripes and Pessimism:

Other than the window decorations, I’ve steered away from commenting on the Gtk related stuff itself. I’m becoming more and more worried about the rounded-rectangle, grey gradient, tango-esque, big-ass padding and even bigger-ass button style that is predominating our little end of UI design lately. That’s a whole series of blog posts unto itself. As the weeks and months roll by, I can’t help but think sometimes that we’re standing here patting ourselves on the back [**], cranking out cartoonish window decorations, and even more cartoonish icons when the big lumbering giant is doing completely different things with UI design. While we’re busy re-working what we already have with no clear goal, I’m afraid we’ll wake up next year with our hands full of all this stuff while the others have simply moved onward and upward.

Sorry to end in a flurry of pessimism, but we need inspiring design to beat the big boys. This re-branding doesn’t show much sign of that.

** For those that may have trouble following along. This is a link to a post that has a series of photos about Gnome UX Hackfest 2010. (It is not the official page for the event – which is here). Indeed there are a series of blog posts there describing the happenings at Gnome UX Hackfest. Please go there and read the series of posts if you’re interested. Make up your own mind about how you think Gnome UI design is going. If you disagree with me, please PLEASE post about it. You can even link back to me and call me an idiot. I really don’t care. I’m pretty sure the people who read my blog can follow links and have their own opinion. Several people in the comments to this post apparently do not, so I added this little note to spell things out.

21 thoughts on “Ubuntu Rebranded

  1. I am completely uninterested about Ubuntu happenings, so wasn’t aware a rebranding was undergoing, your blog if the first time I learned about that.

    So from what I see, there is my first impressions:
    – to me the wordmark screams “Sci-Fi”
    – don’t like the logo treatment, like the old one better. However I can understand the drive to go single color for a logo and agree with you about the circle being bad;
    – the orange *is* ugly, too washed-up;
    – I don’t like window decorations on a dark background.

    But as I said before, I don’t really care about Ubuntu branding, what worries me is some people we have in Fedora land who feel a need to copy everything Ubuntu does, good or bad.

  2. I read your blog religiously, but I felt that I had to comment here.

    I agree completely with everything you’ve said and thank you so much for putting my thoughts into word. I’ll be linking to this article for a long time.

  3. Hi Richard, I, like “nicu” above, wasn’t aware of Ubuntu rebranding until this post.

    After reading and viewing the changes I have to say it’s much like “painting stripes on a mule and telling me it’s a zebra, when what i really wanted was a horse.”

    No insult intended to Linux or Ubuntu but while this may be an improvement in some areas in terms of the big picture I just don’t get it.


  4. @nico – glad to know I informed you about it. The whole issue of Linux being about choice when we really have so many major distros that look and feel much the same is another topic entirely.

    @diablomarcus – Nice to know someone reads this! I really have to do something about the month long pauses between posts though. Apologies for that much.

    @Earl – love the analogy. Kind of implies floundering around for the goal. Thanks for your opinion.

    @Mairin – your blog post was about the Gnome UX Hackfest. My point was about my growing concern that while we might think we’re making good progress, I’m afraid we’re not. I’m truly worried that we’ll wake up one day and realize we’ve spent years making the best darn piano roll ever when everyone else has a digital media player. I don’t think tango icons, rounded rectangles and soft gradients are the way forward. GnomeShell doesn’t present anything new in the way of design. Just look at the Zune interface. It’s just completely above and beyond what we seem to be aiming for. – This is why I pointed to your post about the Gnome UX Hackfest.

  5. @rfquerin: I am sorry, but that’s plain rude. You picked my blog as an arbitrary representation of the hackfest being a “patting ourselves on the back” kind of affair?

    I would very much appreciate it if you removed the link to my blog (and I would suggest finding a more appropriate link to make your point with.)

  6. @mairin – There is nothing rude about it at all. You asked me why I linked to it and I told you, rather politely I might add. You obviously didn’t like the answer. Why not discuss the answer instead? This isn’t personal. This isn’t an attack. It’s a link to one of the primary blog posts about an event that forms part of my argument/point/thoughts. It’s MEANT to generate discussion about this stuff.

    Since when do I have to paint everybody I link to on this blog in a positive light? If someone’s posting about something I want to criticize (this is the internet after all), should I not link to it because I risk irking the person who posted it? There goes critical discourse!

    If instead of saying “patting ourselves on the back”, I had said “celebrating our accomplishments” would we even be having these discussions? I’ll make that change if you think it solves the problem.

    People can make up their own minds. They go to your blog, read what you write (that is the intent of the link isn’t it?) and make up their own minds.

  7. @rfquerin I will remember this the next GNOME event I attend, and will be sure to spend my time documenting the event accordingly. If I had not blogged the event, for example, others unable to attend would not be able to follow along and have the luxury of using that hard work as an example of ‘patting ourselves on the back’

    Do what you like, but you do so knowing how I feel about it (unhappy.)

  8. @mairin – I don’t remember telling you that blogging about it was a bad idea. My interest is in discussion about the way Gnome design is heading. You do a lot of posts about it. It seems to me those posts are a good starting point for critical discussion. But judging by your comments here, you don’t seem too interested in engaging in that.

  9. If you want to engage in critical discussion you will have start by being specific as to what you found as “patting in the back”

  10. Just wondering whether I’m the only one who kind of likes the new branding, at least compared to the only one. Haven’t seen anyone else who does, at least around the internets :)

    Besides that, someone please tell Richard what the difference between \critical discussion\ and plain trolling is. It could really help improve the quality of his blog.

  11. Wow, Richard. Way to take a cool event (Gnome UX Hackfest), where a lot of great progress was made, and crap on it.

    *You* might not like where the look is going, but most folks seem to. Randomly choosing someone else’s blog for trashing in the name of “sparking conversation” is pretty low.

    I’d say you do at least owe Máirín an apology, and you should really respect her wishes and remove the link.

  12. Richard, I have to say I’m confused. From the quick look at the Zune youtube clip, it seems very similar to what my Nexus one does … and neither is a desktop UI. I don’t see how that’s relevant.

  13. Spot on. Thanks for putting into words most of my thoughts about the Ubuntu rebranding (and, indeed, your assorted gripes and pessimism) more informedly than I could manage.

  14. @Rahul – No. You’re missing the point. I said I do not like where Gnome UI design is heading. I think it is aiming too low and short while others aim higher and farther. I wrote that I’m worried that in 5 years time we will be basically polishing what we have now while others (ie. proprietary systems) will have moved way beyond. This is why I also pointed to the Microsoft effort, precisely to show the contrast.

    @Lubomir – You’re far from the only one who likes the new identity. Quite a few people like it. It’s a step forward. You can go ahead an educate me as well, don’t waste your time asking someone else to. I know what critical discussion is not – asking for a link to be removed instead of asking ‘why don’t you like the way Gnome development is heading??’.

    @Thomas – Wow. A single link crapped on a whole event. You give me way too much credit. I think I will actually amend the post to clarify what it is I’m doing. I will however not remove or abstain from posting links that accompany non-positive ideas. To ask me to remove a link because I don’t have anything positive to say is simply ridiculous. I’m not sure how the community will ever progress without being able to handle criticism warranted or otherwise with some degree of aplomb. It’s design we’re talking about, if you want to take everything personally, that’s up to you.

  15. Good post with an honest/fair appraisal, handled diplomatically.

    Prior to the release of the “light themes” I had thought that the old Ubuntu look was being unfairly derided.

    Post light themes – I thought they were joking.
    What a shame they did not select something decent like the beautiful “New Wave”.

    About those window buttons… It looks to me like someone just slid the mac aqua window buttons over on top of the aqua menu button.

  16. Hi there,

    Probably stepped into an aftermath, but I would like to say that I feel the design is quite good. I could be wrong about this, but think for one second about the whole theme and philosophy of the word ‘ubuntu’ of which the meaning is ‘available and open to others’. This is a term of African origin and I feel for one that the font of the logo really reflects the feel of that theme. It is clean, but also quite true to it’s roots and also I feel that’s where the real ‘light’ is. Dunno about you, but I can almost see the sunrise in a savannah in the background with a bit of Lion King music in my head!

    Perhaps the term was taken slightly too literally…

  17. @James – sorry for the delay in getting your comment up. I completely missed it. My point in including the Zune link is that it scares me that even Microsoft’s efforts seem distinctly more forward looking than Gnome’s. And MS is generally not thought of as the one to be pushing the design envelope. It is not a direct comparison to what a desktop UI should be. Just my notation that the non-libre design world is moving quite quickly. I worry that we are not. Simple as that.

  18. Wow how sad to see that someone was so worried about rounded rectangles and the shapes of buttons when what they say they are aiming at is clarifying how they could move on with development of the underlying GUI. A point sorely missed when I read the article. If you are going to make a critical appraisal of how the Ubuntu team is doing as compared to, lets say windows 7, then buttons should be the least of your concern. Indeed you used it as a trolling point because you could have said in one sentence what you had to say. Something along the lines of “I think development of the GUI is being forsaken for rebranding”. Furthermore from that a proper critical discussion would have been followed with: I think the GUI should head in this direction…..
    instead you simply made personal attacks and went on about big assed this and bloated that.

    I dont think I will subscribe to your blog now

  19. @mingebuster

    It seems you missed the fact that the first part of the post was my appraisal of the rebranding and only the last two paragraphs of the post per se were about my thoughts on gtk. I don’t really follow your comment. The ubuntu design team and the path of gtk development are two completely separate issues in my mind – and they were treated that way in my post.

    I’m not sure how you come up with the whole “forsaken for rebranding” point. It doesn’t make any sense and wasn’t my aim.

    As far as proper critical discussion goes, it’s subjective of course. It sounds as though you’re from the camp that thinks critical appraisal of something can’t take place unless someone’s got a better idea to present (maybe I’m wrong?) Frankly I think that’s a stupid idea that stifles all sorts of critical discussion in Libre software land.

    I still stand by my opinions on the progress of design in Gnome-land.

    Sorry that you don’t think you’ll subscribe, but I don’t have subscribers in mind when I write a post. That’s probably why my subscriber list is so low. ;) Oh well.

    Thanks for reading anyway.

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